April 17, 2005
by Takashi Murachi; Yusuke Shimizu
Shooting the Hozu River Rapids
Have you ever heard of the Hozu River near Arashiyama in Kyoto? I recommend you take the opportunity to visit this glorious stretch of water if you like rivers, nature and a little excitement, because you can go down the river at a furious speed by traditional wooden boat while experiencing beautiful scenery.
The Hozu River runs from Kameoka to Arashiyama, over a length of about 16 kilometers. It is possible to see a variety of wild life, such as turtles, birds and snakes, and a vista of natural beauty here, and you will also get a feeling for what old time travel must have been like.
Originally, the riverboats were used as a means of transporting goods from Kameoka to Kyoto city or Osaka. It was because of this type of water transportation that temples like Tenryuji Temple, and castles like Osaka Castle, were able to be built. Using this form of transportation, wood was conveyed from headwaters, and others materials were able to be prepared and delivered, too. Rice and wheat were also once transported, but the use of water transportation gradually decreased once trains were brought into operation and a road transportation system was developed.
However, the ravine in Hozu River is very beautiful all year round, and many people are fascinated by the various natural features to be found here, like the giant rocks, the rapids, and the mountains which change color by the season. Because of this interest, the experience of shooting the Hozu river rapids was started as a tourist attraction in 1985.
Things to see from the boat
There are two ways to get to the embarkation point for the boat at Kameoka. One is by regular JR train, and the other is by tram train. The tram train is a throw back to the old days, and visitors will feel quite nostalgic while riding it. It takes about 10 minutes from Saga-Arashiyama to Kameoka by JR, and about 20 minutes by tram train, due to the slow speed necessary for sightseeing opportunities (30 minutes from Kyoto station). There is also a direct JR service from Kyoto station to Kameoka. The tram train makes a special stop in a tunnel when the train’s conductor entertains the passengers with a rendition of a famous song.
One can see the tram train from the boat only once, as the tram train runs only once an hour. Riding the tram train costs more than going by JR, but it is more than worthwhile as a unique experience.
Atago Mountain is the highest mountain in Kyoto, with an elevation of 924 meters. There’s a shrine on the top of the mountain called Atago shrine, which is famous for housing a deity which is said to protect us from fire.
You first see the mountain in front of you from the boat, and as the boat twists and turns on its way down river, it appears again on the left side and finally to the rear.
The Little Hozu Bridge
There are no handrails here, because the bridge and surrounding area is prone to flooding when it rains a lot. 50 years ago, it rained very heavily and some local houses were flooded.
The Cascade of Little Sweet fish
This delightful spot is called the cascade of little sweet fish, because the tiny sweet fish that inhabit this stretch of river can’t swim upstream against this cascade.
The Nobleman’s Fishing Spot
※Akechi Mitsuhide, was a famous general in Japanese history, who often came to the river to fish. Revered for his prowess in battle, he is perhaps more infamous than famous, notably for one spectacular act of treachery (see below).
The use of boats as a means of transportation began in 1606. At that time, people had to climb up the rocky river, using ropes to drag the boats along. These strenuous activities went on for 350 years, so the tracks and traces the ropes made are still visible. You can also see holes made by the sticks that were used for steering the boats.
Conditions for travel
At its deepest, the water is around 15 meters deep, and the time it takes to shoot the rapids changes along with the amount of water. If there’s a lot of water, the boat runs at a greater speed, and takes about one hour and 15 minutes. In reverse, if there’s not so much water, the boat runs at a slower pace, and takes about two hours. It can sometimes feel like a corkscrew motion when moving rapidly down river, and you can be splashed with a fair bit of water, but getting a little wet is a small price to pay for such an exhilarating aquatic experience.
I thoroughly recommend this wonderful day out!